Such an appropriate phrase for our troubled and confusing times. It was coined by the poet and social commentator Dorothy Parker, almost a century ago. Not by the screenwriters of The Big Bang Theory who purloined the expression, making it one of Sheldon’s famous responses to an unexpected situation.
In 2021 these words are very applicable. The lockdown, while it may prove to temper the third wave of the pandemic is economically a disaster. Not only for the poor entrepreneurs who are being discriminated against. (Example – Walmart is allowed to operate, sell lamps. Specialty lighting stores have to provide curb service, if that). Same goes for light bulbs. Canadian Tire – only curbside service. Some stores have a minimum order of $25. That is an awful lot of light bulbs. But couldn’t you argue, that having a well lit home in the dead of winter is important to peace of mind? Hence light bulbs should be an essential product. Not like alcohol, which will get you lit indeed, but to no joy the next day in sunlight. Declared essential, though.
Then there is something as simple as windshield wiper fluid. Essential for drivers in Canadian winters. Again, the only place to get it without ordering on line, shivering outside a store, wasting precious time is at the gas station – where a premium price is being charged. Not only are people out of work, consumers are being gouged.
Fine, these are picayune examples. But what about clothing? Need to see it, try it on for fit. Online delivery is the only option. What about returns? Have to wait. Personal grooming is also not essential. The undersigned has had two haircuts in the last 12 months. Both more expensive than ever, and also the worst ever. For with a mask – how do you trim around the ears?
Other necessities such as furniture are backordered, for factories are either closed or understaffed thanks to the lockdown. Forget about imported goods.
The lockdown demands only essential movement – grocery (and cannabis) shopping, pharmacies and doctors appointments. Shoppers Drug Mart, our local pharmacy, is a horror show. Narrow aisles with promotional displays blocking the passage. Nobody honours the two-metre distance rule. Only obedience is standing on the circles at the cashier line-up. While others pass within two feet with their shopping carts. Absurd.
Then there are medical appointments. Heaven forfend, if one relies on public transportation. The TTC, especially the 501 streetcar has been taken over by the non-masked homeless. It is warm there, and a place to sleep, also gain free entrance. Fresh hell most definitely. Where are the special constables? Shirkers, because they fear the virus. And some live in the fear of being accosted on narrow sidewalks (again – try to keep two meters apart in the city) or being asked by law enforcement the reason for being outdoors. How do you prove that you are going to the doctor? One older friend, who lived through the two occupations of Estonia during WW II likens the present situation to nascent totalitarianism. We are not far from it, what with Québec’s evening curfew. When does one get the needed exercise then?
But back to Parker. There is a wonderful biography of her available at the Toronto Public Library. With the same title as this article. The author is Marion Meade. At least the TPL system of booking (pardon the pun) reading material online and picking it up curbside has been well thought out. They have had the time, after all. Recommended for those with a sense of humour, something that Parker had in spades.
The poet, satirist, writer was one of the founders of the famed Algonquin Round Table, where the gatherings meant discussion of serious intellectual issues as well as poking fun at the world. Something that Parker achieved to great success as a cultural, mostly of theatre, critic at Vanity Fair. The Roaring 20’s were a time of debauchery, the world of partying seemed permanent, as if it would never end. After all, hadn’t New Yorkers survived the Spanish flu? And weren’t the Huns forced into submission after their arrogant aggression? The world was, at least for Parker, her oyster.
Her fame grew, and Hollywood beckoned. Radio and scriptwriting of movies ensured a steady income to fund her growing alcoholism. But her mind remained as sharp as ever. It was during a panel discussion, on air, that Parker came up with her most famous utterance. The challenge was to use a word provided by the moderator in a sentence. Parker was assigned horticulture. In seconds flat she said, “you can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” No censoring in those days, but if you break down the word into three parts you get an understanding of the quick wit.
Alas, Parker’s life became that hell referenced. The Great Depression was no fun for anyone, and unpleasant surprises, including philandering husbands (not that Parker herself remained true to the vows) led to a steady decline. We are certainly not in the Hades of her time, but one does wonder what she would have been able to do in our age of social media, immediate reaction and the desire for indolent and entitled self-gratification.
History does repeat itself. Let us hope that our present hell will soon be tempered. A sense of humour, a quick repartee and to the point social commentary can only be of benefit.
Tõnu Naelapea, Toronto
DIGITAL Estonian Life No. 15 - April 16, 2021
All issues with table of contents available here: https://issuu.com/estonianlife
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